Measurement of the velocity distribution of sputtered atoms has tested theories of sputtering and radiation damage. Experiments measuring the time of flight of sputtered atoms in precisely defined directions from the emitting surface, from which the related velocity and energy distributions may be deduced, are described. The energy distribution from polycrystalline targets often fits the form derived from a theoretical model in which the bombarding ions initiate collision cascades that eject atoms through the surface. It is assumed that atoms are bound to the surface by a binding force normal to the surface, represented as a binding energy, Eb, in the formula. It is shown how this theory relates to that of radiation damage. Departures from the formula seem to correlate with high–energy density in cascades and/or low values of Eb/kT0 with T0 to the target temperature. A second component then appears in the energy spectrum approximated by where ΔT is an effective local temperature rise induced by cascades.
The velocity distributions from single crystals are strongly affected by both the direction of ion incidence, indicative of ion channelling, and by emission in directions close to simple crystal axes, indicative of momentum focusing within cascades. Models of the cascade region, and the local heating it causes, have been deduced from sputtering experiments and have advanced our understanding of defect structures caused by radiation damage. Momentum focusing processes are active in creating interstitial–vacancy pairs in both radiation damage and sputtering and their properties have been deduced from these experiments. It is shown how the study of sputtering has enhanced the understanding of radiation damage.